Last weekend provided the perfect start for Stornoway Golf Week. The two qualifying rounds of the Western Isles Open were bathed in sunshine, with a gentle breeze, on a course once again in superb condition. All the ingredients were there to allow competitors to play and score at their best. But there is something about the Western Isles Open that precludes low scoring. It may be the result of anxiety or, much more likely, too much preparation. Golfers whose appearance every other Saturday suggests that they have crept out of bed barely half an hour before their afternoon tee times are amazingly transformed into wide awake, perfectly groomed athletes poised like coiled springs on the first tee at 6.45am.
They place a brand new ball, possibly costing more than their entry fee to the competition, on a ‘lucky’ tee, which appears to have been recently washed. They select a pristine, shining club – one of those usually caked in dried grass and mud but today smelling strongly of metal polish – and visualise a tee shot arcing beautifully towards the gap. From there a delightfully played short iron will set up a birdie opportunity and the ideal start to the round of their life. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. That is why so much effort goes into employing ball spotters on the first hole and that is why the ball spotters are strategically placed in the trees; because that is the most likely destination for the savage swipe that masquerades as a controlled swing.
In fact, competitors should be much more relaxed for this competition. History tells us that any competitor playing close to his handicap in the Western Isles Open will qualify for the knock out stages of the scratch, handicap or senior sections of the event. And, this year, it would also help to be colour blind. For reasons that are not entirely clear, a number of participants arrived wearing trousers themed on an explosion in a paint factory.
One group of early morning competitors putting on the Memorial green were narrowly missed by a wayward ball. The ball had been struck by Peter Grant. Whether or not a warning shout was given was immaterial because Peter was dressed in trousers so outrageously loud that no other sound could be heard in the vicinity. And, on the subject of warning shouts, there can be none louder than that of John ‘Shillegan’ Gillies. One particular bellow of ‘Fore!’ on Saturday reached as far as WeeW in Cromwell Street and had shoppers cowering in the doorway.
The challenging nature of the event was underlined by the fact that no one broke 70 in the first round. In the scratch section, Kevin Macrae, with gross 70, led Andy Macdonald and Scott Maciver by two strokes. Two strokes further back were Norrie O Macdonald and David Black.
Two golfers set a blistering pace in the handicap section. Jamie Duncan, who has struggled of late, suddenly regained his touch and returned nett 61, one shot clear of Iain Macdonald. Iain rarely ventures farther than half way around the course but there is no denying his golfing ability. John Fraser was another leading contender on nett 64. For those golfers, a steady second round would be enough to ensure qualification.
The rest of the field found the second round to be generally an improvement on the first. For many, that was not exactly an outstanding achievement; for some, it was the second round effort that took them to the knock out stages.
The leading qualifier in the scratch section was Kevin Macrae who matched his morning 70 with another in the afternoon. The first round saw him reach the turn in level par and return two over par and his scoring in the second round was the exact reverse. Norrie O Macdonald bettered his morning round by six shots for a level par round, while David Black improved by five strokes for a 69.
Griddy Macleod, Cal Robertson and Alistair Macleod all improved in the afternoon to qualify. Both Murdo O’Brien and Scott Maciver must have sensed their chances slipping away as they struggled over the final few holes but, despite that, both qualified comfortably for the knock out stage.
In the handicap section, Iain Macdonald edged ahead of Jamie Duncan in the top two qualifying places. Both had useful second rounds of nett 68 and 70 respectively, which took Iain to an aggregate total of 131, one stroke clear.
Pat Aird added a nett 65 to his morning 68 to move up to third spot. Ken MacDonald, John A Macleod and Marten James all carded solid performances in both rounds, while Cal Murray improved on his first round nett 72 with a 67 to qualify on nett 139.
There were a number of golfers tied on 140 for the final qualifying place and it was John Gillies who progressed, courtesy of a second round nett 67.
Neil Macleod led the senior section with a nett 68 round, one stroke ahead of Iain Macritchie and Graeme Whyte. The final qualifying place was filled by Norrie Maclean with a nett 70.
Two other competitors made headlines at the weekend but will not be able to participate in the remainder of the Open competition. Andy Macdonald had the best aggregate scratch total of the day with 138 and is the deserving recipient of the Isles Construction Trophy.
Robbie Macrae would have qualified in the handicap section with nett 136. Robbie, who is in his early seventies, continues to play to a remarkably high standard and his first round nett 65 was amongst the best of the day. Indeed, his 76 gross was one of the better rounds of the day. However, Robbie prefers the attraction of Rod Stewart belting out his hits in Inverness this weekend to the serene calm of the golf course. Rumour has it that Robbie and Rod were in the same class at school in Golspie.
A third golfer worthy of mention is Colin Macritchie, the lowest handicapped member in Stornoway, who is in excellent form this season. Colin was injured playing football two weeks ago and is unable to compete on the course this week. His involvement has been missed and our wishes for a speedy recovery go out to him, together with some free advice: keep clear of flying feet.
Iain Macdonald and Jamie Duncan earned the Seaforth Trophy and the Drambuie Salver respectively for their weekend exploits. The Stutt Shield for ageing golfers went to Pat Aird.
Dermot Campbell won the Whyte Trophy for the best aggregate scratch score by a visiting golfer. Don Mackenzie, last year’s winner of the handicap event, missed out on qualification this year by the narrowest of margins but had the consolation of winning the Hebridean Cup for the best two rounds under handicap by a visitor.
The Ladies Stableford competition last Saturday gave a last opportunity for practice before their Western Isles Open. Jan Maclennan won by two points from Ann Galbraith, with Mary Joyce in third place.
The Ladies Open qualifying on Monday saw Jane Nicolson take first place with an excellent nett 67. Joining Jane in the knock out stages are Jan Maclennan, Rita MacDonald and Ann Galbraith.
The Mens Fourball Better Ball event traditionally brings a touch of chaos to Golf Week. For those not familiar with the format (and that includes many of the golfers who participated in the competition), foursomes is the golfing equivalent of the eightsome reel: a large number of people following each other round in circles, having little idea of what they are supposed to be doing but generally finding the experience very enjoyable. Scoring was nevertheless of a very high standard, with three teams tied on nett 62. Neil Fairbairn and Alasdair Maclean nudged ahead of Bryan Geddes and Griddy Macleod for third place behind runners-up Kenny Murray and Mike Smith.
The clear winners were Norrie ‘Tomsh’ Macdonald and Murdo O’Brien who returned a nett ten under par 58.